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Salon 309: Hofstra's best kept secret

Salon 309: Hofstra's best kept secret

Photo Courtesy of Jordan Laird

Room 309 in Vander Poel Hall may just be Hofstra University’s best-kept secret.

 While the Honors College dorm may not necessarily conjure visions of glamor, every week room 309 becomes Salon 309, or as the Instagram page states, “Not an actual salon, but a person doing their best (the one that does $5 haircuts).”

Liz Torre, a senior psychology major and fine arts minor, has been cutting, shaving, bleaching and dyeing hair in her dorm room since starting college.

She got her start at age 6 when she taught herself how to French braid using a book. While still in elementary school, she gave herself side bangs using safety scissors. “My mom hated it because people kept complimenting [the bangs],” Torre said. “That was the point where there was no turning back.”

Torre began cutting other people’s hair in middle school. “My friend’s mom cut her hair and she always did a bad job, so she’d come to school the next day and I’d fix it,” she said. “That progressed to a couple guys at the high school who didn’t want to pay salon prices, but the only barber was bad, so they had nothing to lose.” 

Gradually, Torre became her family’s resident hairdresser after her father bought a pair of clippers to use on her brother and she started using them as well. She even touched up her mom’s roots with guidance from her aunt, who owns a salon. 

She bought her own set of clippers to do her own hair when she went off to college and started doing $5 buzz cuts with encouragement from her father. Since then, the range of services has expanded considerably. A scroll through her Instagram account reveals a plethora of before-and-after comparisons – beard trims, technicolor dye jobs and yes, buzz cuts. 

“I love shaving designs in undercuts, that’s one of my favorite things to do,” Torre said.

Though she’s gone far beyond the humble buzz cut, the baseline suggested donation of $5 has remained the same. “I’ve always sort of let people pay whatever they want because before college I never charged anyone,” Torre said. “I have, on more than one occasion, given haircuts to people that I know didn’t have the money to go anywhere else. And I’d rather make someone happy than make this a business.”

While Salon 309 isn’t a business, it’s certainly successful. Torre sees around 15 clients per week, a number that has remained steady since the second semester of her freshman year. The Instagram account, however, is a relatively new addition. Beforehand, news spread mostly through Facebook and word of mouth.

There are other factors that distinguish Salon 309 from a traditional business, too. First and foremost, it is still a dorm room, one that Torre shares with a roommate, both of whom have lived there all four years. The walls are adorned with countless posters for bands, video games, movies and more, along with original paintings by Torre. The door is almost always propped open, so it’s not uncommon for a floormate or two to stop by and watch or make casual conversation as her clients get their hair done. And if you’re getting bleached or dyed, you have the distinct pleasure of attempting to cram your head under the stream of the notoriously finicky automatic sinks, but not without plenty of encouragement and assistance from Torre. 

The most distinguishable aspect from a normal salon, though, is the level of autonomy Torre provides her customers. “At a normal salon it can be difficult, especially if they see things in a very binary way and they interpret you as being a certain way,” she said. “Sometimes you can’t even convince someone to do your hair the way you want, even if you have pictures. If they think of you as more feminine, they’ll give you a more feminine look. It should be up to you and not up to them. I like to give people the element of expression [so they] feel like they do have full control over their look and the way it comes out.

“Someone had just come out as [transgender] to their family, and their family was more okay with it than they thought, and they decided that this was the time to make their appearance match,” Torre said. “They’d gotten their hair cut short at a salon, but it was still very feminine, which was not what they wanted, and so I trimmed it up and made it more of a squared-off, kind of masculine look and they almost cried. And it was cute!”

As Torre prepares to graduate in just a few weeks, Salon 309 will no longer be available. She has considered getting licensed in the future and being “somewhat more professional,” but says that at the very least, she’ll keep doing hair for family and friends. “If anyone wants to come visit me, come get a haircut,” Torre said. In the fall, Torre will pursue a master’s degree in social work, and her ethos of care for others is exemplified by these DIY dorm-room cuts. 

“I don’t just do it to get it done. The way you feel about the way you look and your own appearance can definitely change the way you feel about yourself as a whole and your mental health in general,” Torre said. “Being able to help people with that and making it something that’s easily attainable definitely makes their lives a lot easier and I like doing that.”

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